CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan police rescued Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos on Friday, two days after he was kidnapped, officials announced.
Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said on state television that Ramos was "safe and sound" and that he was rescued by police. He said the circumstances weren't immediately clear.
Information Minister Andres Izarra initially reported the rescue via Twitter, saying Ramos was "found alive by security forces in mountainous zone."
Izarra said it was "a rescue operation by air," which was authorized earlier in the day by President Hugo Chavez. "Ramos free!" said one message on Izarra's account.
Ramos' mother celebrated, exclaiming on television: "Thanks to God!"
"Thanks to my country, to my neighbors and to my family, who were supporting us," she said.
Armed men seized Ramos at gunpoint Wednesday night outside his home in a working-class neighborhood in the city of Valencia. Authorities said Thursday that they had found a stolen SUV used by the kidnappers abandoned in a nearby town.
The abduction was the first known kidnapping of a major league baseball player in a country that has dozens of players on big league rosters in the U.S., and it brought a renewed focus on worsening violent crime in Venezuela.
Security has increasingly become a concern for Venezuelan players and their families as a wave of kidnappings has hit the wealthy as well as the middle class. Relatives of several Venezuelan major leaguers have previously been kidnapped for ransom, and in two cases have been killed.
Bodyguards typically shadow major leaguers when they return to their homeland to play in Venezuela's winter baseball league, but it was unclear what precautions, if any, Ramos was taking while at his family's home.
Major League Baseball officials said it was the first kidnapping of a major leaguer that they could recall.
Polls consistently say rampant crime is the top worry of Venezuelans. The country has one of the highest murder rates in Latin America, and the vast majority of crimes go unsolved. The number of kidnappings has soared in recent years.
Fans in both Venezuela and Washington had held candlelight vigils and prayed for his safe release.
Associated Press writer Christopher Toothaker contributed to this report.